Especially Everyone

When musician Pete Kozak, who has worked in the world of developmental disabilities for 15 years, invited a music-loving client to hear his band play, he was surprised by the young man’s reaction: He didn’t want to go.

“And then I realized nothing about it would accommodate him,” Kozak says. “Concerts are played at night, in dark light and in crowds.”

It was a lesson that simmered and then turned into a solid idea: Especially Everyone (EE), a non-profit organization based in Greenwich, Conn., that produces inclusive interactive concerts for people of all abilities.

The star of the shows, which are called The Especially Everyone Experience, is a 10-piece band that plays a mix of original and cover songs, and invites the audience to sing, dance and play along during each performance. (Kozak is on vocals and percussion.) Each show has a designated sensory break area, the noise level is kept at a moderate volume and hearing protection, such as earmuffs and earplugs, are provided. There are also sound stations where participants can try out instruments before the show and during breaks.

The Boost spoke with Kozak, EE founder and director, as well as a behavioral therapist, about how it all started and where things are going.

Were there any other incidents that inspired you to switch gears and form EE?

Actually, yes, my very first client. He was a 65-year-old man with developmental disabilities and I took him to an activity that turned out to be a game of duck, duck goose. Everyone there meant well, but it was clear to me that it wasn’t appropriate for him. So many adults with disabilities find themselves doing things meant for little kids.

Yes — there aren’t enough activities that give adults a sense of being, well, adults. How did things get off the ground?

I’ve played music my whole life and grew up playing in bands, including a wedding band. Back in about 2018 my friends and I repurposed the wedding band to throw a Sunday afternoon concert to address the sensory issues [that stopped my client from going to my concert].

We started out doing them quarterly and then COVID hit and things came to a stop. During that time I started writing some original music with one of my partners, Jon Schmarak, who’s in a masters program for music therapy.

After COVID, the project turned into an original band with a musical therapy spin. In 2022 we had a soft relaunch and then developed the material into a full show, The Especially Everyone Experience, which debuted in October 2023. 

Any plans for expansion? 

Well, we also have a vocational side. We partner with vocational programs and run opportunities within the productions for people [with developmental disabilities] to work. So, we have a greeter, and have people working on our next event as production assistants.

We’re also going to be stepping into the educational and lesson space.

Do you charge for the shows?

It depends on the venue. This weekend we’re playing in Nyack [April 7 at the Nyack Center] and I rented the venue so we have full control and are just asking for a suggested donation. Other venues it’s not as easy for us to do that. We’re trying to be creative to keep costs down so anyone can come. There’s a void and we’re hoping to fill it!

See upcoming EE events here

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